Frustration mounts over proposed South Asheville development, construction in general

OVERLOOK OVERLOAD? The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment will consider plans for a 221-unit apartment complex that would also have 30 townhomes. Nearby residents are worried about traffic on Overlook Road.
OVERLOOK OVERLOAD? The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment will consider plans for a 221-unit apartment complex that would also have 30 townhomes. Nearby residents are worried about traffic on Overlook Road. Map courtesy of Buncombe County

A proposed apartment complex in South Asheville is generating angst and highlights the growing frustrations some Buncombe County residents feel as housing developments continue to fill in previously vacant parcels of land. However, it appears some of those frustrations are being heard as late Friday, June 9, the developer announced he was pushing the hearing to July, rather than next week.

Apartment overture

At issue is Overlook Apartments, a proposed 221-unit apartment complex that includes 30 townhomes. The size of the project is more than eight buildings and therefore requires a conditional use permit to be designated as a planned unit development. The application is from Greensboro-based company Hagen Engineering PA.

Community members began vocal opposition to the project during a June 6 Board of Commissioners meeting. Residents said they learned of the project less than two weeks before its scheduled hearing and urged commissioners to delay action.

South Asheville resident Vijay Kapoor uses Overlook Road to take his daughter to school and doesn’t think the thoroughfare can handle the additional traffic the housing development would add. He told Xpress that, as of June 9, he had heard from more than “400 people opposing this project and that list is growing every hour.”

As of June 8, Kapoor said there has not been any communication with the developer.

Xpress also reached out to the developer and has not heard back.

Kapoor then emailed Xpress on June 9 stating he heard from the developer and the hearing would be postponed until July 12 in order to meet with nearby residents.

In a mass email to people in the community Kapoor revealed: “The Home Owner Association presidents of communities along Overlook Road are in the process of setting up a meeting with the developer’s attorney to learn more about the proposal. Before any Board of Adjustment hearing, we will insist on having public town hall meetings where residents can ask questions of the developer.”

“It’s really struck a chord down here. I thought that the neighborhood reaction to the Sweeten Creek/Mills Gap road apartment complex was big, but people are even more upset about this one,” said Kapoor.

“As an attorney, I’ve never seen such a process so stacked against residents. Signs about the hearing didn’t go up until late last week, people didn’t receive letters until early this week, we haven’t received the information that we’ve requested from the county. This, despite the fact that the county had the application since April.”

Chief among worries stemming from the additional housing is not just traffic congestion but accidents. N.C. Department of Transportation data shows that in 2014, Overlook Road had an annual average daily traffic of 9,000 cars, or nearly 3.3 million cars a year.

Information from Asheville Police Department’s traffic incident report database shows Overlook Road had 23 accidents in 2016 and is up to 11 accidents this year, with five in May.

CRASH COURSE: A map, with data from the Asheville Police Department, shows Overlook Road had five accidents in May. A proposed 231-unit apartment complex goes before the Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, June 14.
CRASH COURSE: A map, with data from the Asheville Police Department, shows Overlook Road had five accidents in May. A proposed 231-unit apartment complex off Overlook Road goes before the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, June 14.

However, Kapoor and others who have reached out to Xpress are worried that despite what they believe is an untenable traffic situation, the project will move forward. To that end, some have vowed litigation.

County Planner Debbie Truempy said the appeals process is handled by the county’s Superior Court. “Basically, the court reviews the decision for an error of law, if the board had the power to make the decision or whether the board exceeded its powers in issuing the decision,” Truempy told Xpress.

But Kapoor is looking even further ahead, worried the process is inherently flawed, noting a group of residents will request commissioners change the notification process. He said a model such as the city recently adopted would be the goal.

In the past year, there have been a number of housing developments approved and a growing sense of consternation from South Asheville, and other county, residents who are voicing displeasure with development creating increased stress on infrastructure that is believed to be already at, or near, capacity. For example:

Subject to interpretation

Also of note on the agenda is a proposed vacation rental complex consisting of nine cabins at 198 Shope Creek Road. This project was originally denied during May’s Board of Adjustment meeting and had a number of people speaking out against it, with noise and traffic being the primary complaints.

At the time, board Chairman George Lycan expressed concerns about noise and noted it would be “detrimental to public welfare and change the character of the surrounding area.”

County Attorney Michael Frue then told board members: “The board can hang its hat on noise or traffic via ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ That’s the board’s discretion.”

In regard to noise and traffic, central to both aforementioned agenda items, approval is somewhat subjective.

Frue explained, via email, that the Shope Creek Road decision was based on the county’s zoning ordinance regarding conditional use permits: “The main concerns of board and public appeared to be noise and traffic in that rather tight valley. When considering a [conditional use permit] application, the board is charged with examining whether satisfactory provisions and arrangements have been made concerning the health and safety of those living nearby and whether the proposed use may be detrimental to the public welfare.

“[Board of Adjustment] decisions are often subjective. That’s why those hearings are quasi-judicial and speakers are required to be sworn in. As opposed to the Planning Board, where there is little leeway in that board’s application of the ordinance.”

Above is a section from Buncombe County's zoning ordinance [§78-677(g)] that deals with the approval of conditional use permits.
Above is a section from Buncombe County’s zoning ordinance [§78-677(g)] that deals with the approval of conditional use permits.
The Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing on the Shope Creek Road proposal and other developments at noon June 14 at 46 Valley St. The Overlook Apartments hearing is now slated for July 12.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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21 thoughts on “Frustration mounts over proposed South Asheville development, construction in general

  1. Don Kostelec

    The traffic crash elements of this are misrepresented and are no reasons to deny such an application on the basis of traffic safety. There is generally less of a traffic safety concern with increased congestion. That’s because increased congestion means drivers are forced to drive slower. Any analysis of this should look at the severity of crashes rather than the number of crashes. Yes, crashes may rise with more traffic but the severity will decrease dramatically because lower speeds mean lower severity of crashes. Otherwise, this just looks like traditional NIMBYs grasping at anything they can to help rectify their poor housing location choices.

    • bsummers

      “rectify their poor housing location choices”?

      OK, you maybe had me until that somewhat mean last sentence. Does lashing out like that do well for you in Boise Idaho?

      • NFB

        Well, hey, the rest of the world seems to want to tell Asheville how it should do things, why should Boise be any different?

        • bsummers

          I was referring to the “rectify their poor housing location choices” crack. What the heck is that? Making fun of people for where they live?

  2. Mike

    I thought Overlook Rd (and I drive it regularly) was in the City? If so, why is the county making the decsion.

    • Cindy

      Hey! Aren’t you the Don Kostelec that owns Alta Planning and Design Resources out of Boise?
      Interesting that one of the vision statements for you company states:
      “You and your community deserve to be healthy. Perhaps you’re taking your first steps towards a new trail, cycle track, or Safe Routes to School program. Or maybe you want to improve safety on a challenging roadway corridor, design the next great waterfront, improve your community’s walkability, or invest in wayfinding signage or an encouragement program. Alta staff are here for you, representing the best and brightest in our industry. We are shaping the field with our cutting edge research, education, and thought leadership.”
      I doubt you have traveled the road in question since leaving Asheville, so why post such an ugly comment? Isn’t that bad PR for your company considering your Mission Statement uses the word “safety” frequently?
      Congrats on the great bike paths you designed and developed in Asheville, I’m just so grateful you are not designing any roads in our community! NIMBY’s….really?

      • Mike

        Say what ?? I’m an old retired college prof who happens to have a home in the Asheville area. … Never heard of Alta planning.

        • bsummers

          I think she accidentally hit ‘reply’ to your comment instead of the one above you, from Don Kostelec.

        • Cindy

          @Mike
          Sorry, the monitor held my response over the weekend. Just posted today.

          • Cindy

            So Mike, the issue regarding Overlook Rd is a major cluster because the proposed property (R 1 zoned county) is surrounded by established single family dwellings (R2 R4 zoned city). The developer wants to build a Level 1 PUD, a 430+ bedroom apt complex + 30 town homes which requires a change in zoning to R-3 (Buncombe Co). One issue is, the type of proposed development and changing the zoning district to R-3 opens the possibility of Non- Conforming Zoning. This is in direct conflict with the county Board of Adjustment’s defined Purpose. Traffic safety is a huge issue too, but the county doesn’t choose to take responsibility for this.

          • luther blissett

            Oh, that clarifies things more than the stuff about Overlook Road traffic.

            It’s a chunk of county that was presumably never incorporated into the city because it was never developed, unlike the properties along the rest of the road. This feels like a situation where, uh, annexation would make sense. Yet another of those dumb South Asheville city/county situations.

      • Jay Reese

        I have followed Mr Kostelec’s comments for a couple years and he is spot on in his views. He represents the future of urban design and his thoughts should be taken into account. While on the other hand those opposed are stuck in the past with their thoughts on development. Cindy it seems you are opposed to any development that is not car-centric. I am curious as to which bike paths you are denigrating

      • Jay Reese

        Are you the Cindy Reed i’ve been chatting with on Nextdoor?

  3. Jay Reese

    I’m saddened to learn that Mr Kapoor drives his child to school since the school traffic is part of the problem. If we eliminated the school traffic and placed a barrier at the intersection of Springside and Overlook restricting the thru traffic from Long Shoals the traffic wouldn’t be so bad. The automobile is the problem not the housing. You can increase density without diminishing quality of life if you remove the automobile and provide alternative forms of transport.

    • Lulz

      LOL its called a school bus. That people will sit in traffic for an hour to pick up their kids is telling of a bigger problem in societal distrust. But that’s how low it’s getting.

    • Mike

      I used to walk or ride my bike to Grace School.. I think that is banned now by many schools.

      • Jay Reese

        If not banned, definitely discouraged. My son has had issue with uncaring administrators and drivers when it comes to safe passage riding his bike to school

    • luther blissett

      I’m inclined to agree with this: Overlook Rd has become a “rat-run” for commuters, and the city shouldn’t be expected to treat a two-lane mostly-residential road as if it’s a highway just to keep commuters happy. H’ville Rd and Long Shoals exist. Traffic-calming has been deployed for other cut-throughs. If “local traffic + thru traffic” becomes an issue when you add local traffic, then you balance the equation by making it much less attractive for thru traffic.

      (Based on past reporting here, Mr Kapoor doesn’t live on or even very near to Overlook Rd. If that has changed, I’ll stand corrected.)

      • Jay Reese

        I have argued the same thing about the cut-through traffic. Eliminate it and the problems pretty much solved even with the addition of more housing.

  4. Deplorable Infidel

    get your children OUT of government screwls and your problem is eliminated there …

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